Condom Shortage a Crisis in Uganda

Uganda, often cited as a positive story in the battle against HIV/AIDS due to dropping rates of infection, has restricted the availability of condoms, creating a crisis situation that is putting many lives at risk, particularly those of adolescents and young adults. According to the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the shortage began in October 2004, when the Ugandan government recalled the Engabu brand of condoms. The price of the condoms that were still available skyrocketed, and since then, availability has dramatically decreased, according to CHANGE. The limited access to condoms has coincided with a reasserted emphasis on fidelity and especially on abstinence, part of the ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use Condoms) program supported by the United States government.

Girls and women are at increased risk because of the shortage. Jodi Jacobson, executive director of CHANGE, notes that “adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24 are at high risk of infection in Uganda,” but are no longer included in outreach programs. She reports that garbage bags are now being used as substitutes for condoms, while “public confidence in condoms as a tool for prevention of both HIV and unintended pregnancy” is being “undermin[ed]” not only in Uganda but also in other countries. Nor is marriage a certain safeguard against infection: according to a Human Rights Watch Report, “[g]irls typically marry men who are much older than they are, and who have been sexually active for a long period of time. Absent significant changes in the sexual behavior of men, therefore, HIV prevention messages that encourage young women (and men) exclusively to ‘abstain until marriage’ provide a false sense of security.”

Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy on AIDS in Africa, told BBC, “The government of Uganda appears to be under the influence of the American policy through the presidential initiative emphasizing abstinence far and away over condoms.”

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CHANGE press statement 8/26/05; BBC News 8/30/05, 9/2/05; Human Rights Watch Report 3/05

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